Back Version française
Litigation

The new concept of family violence in the Divorce Act: a possible application to unmarried couples?

Apr 29th, 2021

By Charlotte Oger-Chambonnet

Recent amendments to the Divorce Act, which came into force on March 1, 2021, introduce the concept of family violence and set out a specific list of factors to be considered by the Courts when assessing the best interests of the child in the context of family violence. Hence, the Act now provides that Courts must consider the effect of family violence on parenting arrangements for children in divorce cases.

However, and as confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2013 in Eric v. Lola, the Divorce Act does not apply to unmarried couples living in Quebec.

In a recent Superior Court order, the mother of a young child contested an application by the father for a safeguard order for shared custody. The parties had lived together in a non-marital union and the mother alleged that she had been a victim of spousal abuse during this time.

In this matter, in which Spiegel Sohmer represented the mother, the Honourable Karen Kear-Jodoin applied the factors set out in the new provisions of the Divorce Act to assess the best interests of the child in the context of family violence, and cited the text of section 16(3)(j)(i) of the Divorce Act:

« [11] À la lumière des récents amendements sur la Loi sur le Divorce, le Tribunal doit considérer tous les facteurs liés à la violence familiale lorsqu’il rend une ordonnance parentale.

[12] Dans le présent dossier, et après avoir lu les déclarations solennelles contradictoires des parties, il est impossible pour le Tribunal d’en déterminer la crédibilité au regard des allégations de violence conjugale. Par conséquent, en émettant cette ordonnance, le Tribunal ne peut rendre une décision à l’égard de telles allégations.

[13] Le Tribunal, afin de rendre cette ordonnance intérimaire, doit considérer l’impact de la violence conjugale alléguée sur « la capacité et la volonté de toute personne ayant recours à la violence familiale de prendre soin de lui et de répondre à ses besoins ». Le Tribunal réitère qu’il ne rend aucune conclusion vis-à-vis de la véracité des allégations de la Mère concernant la violence conjugale et/ou du démenti de Père à cet égard. Même si le Tribunal ne prend pas de telles allégations à la légère, il doit également considérer l’importance du droit de l’enfant à maintenir une relation étroite et affectueuse avec ses deux parents. »                                                                             

 (our emphasis)

The application of the factors provided in the Divorce Act in this case is particularly interesting as the Civil Code of Quebec does not contain equivalent provisions that would render family violence a factor in defining the interests of the child.

It will be pertinent to follow future case law to determine whether the Superior Court will continue to apply the Divorce Act's new concept of family violence in cases of child custody for unmarried couples, while awaiting its integration into the Civil Code of Quebec. We believe that this decision by the Honourable Karen Kear-Jodoin opens the door to such an application.

Our litigation team remains at your disposal to answer all your needs in family matters.